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May 20, 2009

TNT's upfront: the finest broadcast net on cable

Raising the bar TNT has this strange love/hate relationship with the broadcast networks.

Armed with the latest research, the cable network publicly bashes the Big Four relentlessly for losing market share. Yet the network, and its sister network TBS, were built on repeats of syndicated broadcast procedurals and sitcoms (along with sports and movies).

Google "TNT" right now and here's the description: "TNT We Know Drama. TNT is home to great dramatic TV series like Law & Order, NYPD Blue, ER & other television shows."

Even TNT's original series like "The Closer" and "Saving Grace" are basically CBS-style shows airing during the summer when CBS is airing repeats.

They're like some admiring co-worker who tries to dress like you, act like you and talk like you ... then bashes you every chance he gets.

Fox fired back at TNT during its upfront presentation, noting that for all the press of "The Closer," about 75 broadcast shows score higher ratings (that number seems too high to me, but you get the point).

TBS does deserve credit, however, for reviving the so-called "urban" comedy, with shows like "House of Payne" racking up huge ratings after broadcasters largely shrugged off such programming.

At its upfront, TNT announced it's getting more broadcast-y than ever, with new shows from Mark Burnett and Jerry Bruckheimer, and developing scripted drama projects with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Steven Bochco, "Roseanne" creator Matt Williams and the husband-and-wife team of Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon.

Here's THR's Georg Szalai with the details from Turner's upfront.

Turner Entertainment Networks unveiled its upfront presentation in New York Wednesday morning.

It will also tell media buyers that TBS is next year launching an animated series from Fox TV Animation, DreamWorks Animation and its CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg that will revolve around a family from hell, and is developing a project executive produced by Kevin James.

TNT will launch three new star-powered series this summer, while bringing back four established original shows.

The new shows are hospital drama "Hawthorne" (Tuesdays, 9pm) with Jada Pinkett Smith, police drama "Dark Blue" (Wednesdays, 10pm) from producer Bruckheimer and starring Dylan McDermott, as well as "Wedding Day" (Tuesdays, 8pm) from Burnett and DreamWorks Television, which gives deserving couples their dream wedding.

The returning originals are "The Closer," "Saving Grace," "Raising The Bar" and "Leverage."

Meanwhile, the network has ordered a pilot, dubbed "Untitled Alien Invasion Project," from DreamWorks Television and executive producer Spielberg for a show set six months after a worldwide alien invasion. A group of everyday heroes must fight for their survival and maintain their humanity, according to a description of the concept. "Saving Private Ryan" screenwriter Robert Rodat is writing the pilot based on an idea he and Spielberg came up with.

In December, TNT plans to debut new series "Men of a Certain Age," a character-based drama from Ray Romano and Mike Royce. Romano will also star along with Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula in the series that will look at a guy approaching mid-life.

Under the working title "Class Action," Bochco and Stephen Godchaux ("Spin City") are developing a project featuring a down-on-his-luck attorney fighting for the disenfranchised.

And Bacon/Sedgwick will executive produce the story of a small Texas border town and its newly elected sheriff under the working title "Zapata, Texas."

Among other development plans, TNT is working on an untitled family drama from Williams, an untitled Daniel Pyne noir drama set in 1954 LA, as well as unscripted dramas "The Mayo Clinic" and "Trip of a Lifetime."

"Our networks are continuing to grow as rivals to broadcasters, with original programming that reaches a wide spectrum of viewers," said Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks.

In other Turner news, TBS will in 2010 premiere "Neighbors from Hell," a half-hour animated show about a suburban family that happens to be from hell. The series comes from Fox TV Animation, DreamWorks Animation and Katzenberg.

TBS is also developing sitcom "The Game of Life," executive-produced by Kevin James and "King of Queens" collaborators Rock Reuben and Jeff Sussman; the animated "Big Tow" from executive producer Clay Graham ("The Drew Carey Show") about a single Dad who runs a towing company; and slice-of-life sketch comedy show "Wee Hours" from Second City TV.

Saving graceTurner on Wednesday also said it plans to add to the program lineup of its truTV network this year to further attract young men.

Planned shows include an NFL Films project with the working title "NFL Full Contact" that is set to provide a behind-the-scenes look at pro football - and become the first of what could become a range of major sports-themed shows on the channel; "Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura" that will see the former wrestler and Minnesota governor uncover modern-day conspiracy theories; four-part series "Full Throttle" about the world's biggest biker bar; and a look at elite anti-terrorism operations under the working title "U.S. Special Ops: Declassified" from producer Tom DeSanto ("X-Men," "Transformers").

During the TBS portion of Wednesday's program at Manhattan's Hammerstein Ballroom, Katzenberg said he was excited to join the network's comedy lineup. Introducing a trailer for his upcoming show "Neighbors From Hell," he told the crowd that "you are very familiar with hell -- you are about half-way through upfront week."

Other TBS stars taking the stage included Tyler Perry, Bill Engvall and George Lopez, who will debut his own late night show "Lopez Tonight" in November. "My name is Lopez -- the late is already implied," Lopez quipped in explaining why the word "late" isn't part of the show title. "Some nights I may not even show up." He also joked that in this recession he has to do three jobs on the show -- write, executive produce and host it. And he quipped that TBS has big trust to give a Mexican a show at the height of the swine flu epidemic.

A little video showed the comic with President Obama who said he wants Lopez to bring change to late night TV. And Lopez vowed Wednesday to do that by bringing a party atmosphere to late night and allowing celebrities to be themselves.

Wednesday's upfront presentation brought out many of the big TNT stars, such as Pinkett Smith, Hunter, Bruckheimer and McDermott, as well as Romano, Braugher and Bakula.

Bruckheimer and McDermott said "Dark Blue" is their first cable project, with the former saying he enjoys "the creative freedoms" of cable.

Romano, Braugher and Bakula had the media buying audience in stitches when they hit the stage.

Romano quipped that his father's reaction to the TNT project was simple: "I guess now we gotta get cable!?"

He added that for his first major project after the end of his hit sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" he wanted to make sure that "I made about 95% less money." He added: "And TNT went above and beyond."

Turner execs had some serious messages and jokes to share in Wednesday's presentation.

David Levy, president of ad sales, distribution and sports, Turner Broadcasting System, quipped that due to the recession, ABC's "Lost" is now being shot on Staten Island.

But he also called on media buyers to follow consumers who don't differentiate between between cable and broadcast TV shows, but simply watch what they enjoy. "It's time to erase the line" and ad rate discount cable has fought for years, he said. "Just buy television."

Koonin made a reference to NBC's decision to put the upcoming Jay Leno show into the weekday 10pm time slot. "We are not abandoning the 10pm hour," Koonin said, adding he sees a "robust" opportunity at that time of evening. "We plan to invest in 10pm."


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